Rare Disease Report

Jerry Lewis, Comedic and Muscular Dystrophy Advocacy Legend, Dead at 91

AUGUST 20, 2017
James Radke
Jerry Lewis, actor, comedian, and muscular dystrophy advocate, died Sunday Morning at his home in Las Vegas. He was 91 years old.

While the legendary actor was best known for his slapstick humor in movies such as The Caddy, Cinderfella, and The Nutty Professor, it was his hosting of the muscular dystrophy association (MDA) telethon every Labor Day weekend that won him praise as a caring rare disease advocate.

The first telethon in 1956 was co-hosted by Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin and in 1966, became a staple of the Labor Day weekend. Most of the shows were hosted by Jerry Lewis who emceed until to 2010. The telethon included a who’s who of Hollywood, such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Celine Dion, Carrie Underwood, Pitbull, Ryan Seacrest, Luke Bryan, will.i.am, and Jennifer Lopez.

In a news release, Rodney Howell, MD, chairman of the board for the MDA said,

“MDA would not be the organization it is today if it were not for Jerry’s tireless efforts on behalf of ‘his kids.’ His enthusiasm for finding cures for neuromuscular disease was matched only by his unyielding commitment to see the fight through to the end. Jerry’s efforts on the annual MDA Telethon transformed the broadcast into an American tradition each Labor Day weekend for 45 years.
“MDA and the families we serve will always be grateful for the thousands of hours he dedicated through the telethon, which provided MDA with a platform to honor and acknowledge our longtime corporate partners and educate the American public who generously donated millions of dollars for unparalleled research and services.”

In addition to hosting the telethon, Lewis was highly involved behind the scenes in helping muscular dystrophy community by attending openings of MDA care and research centers, lobbying Congress and pharmaceutical companies for funding, and doing countless calls or visits to families dealing with muscular dystrophy.

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